Friday, November 1, 2013

# 1 In His Own Dream

    #1 In His Own Dream

It is easy for the marketing department of a record label to promote one of their artists with words such as 'great', 'groundbreaking', 'innovative' or a host other superlatives, but quite another to demonstrate that through example. The historian's task is to dig deeper and uncover the evidence to support the claims. Paul Butterfield is good example of an artist who has been lauded by marketing departments and journalists for decades but little is known about what his deeper contributions were to American popular music during his career and his legacy which is being heard three decades after his death. He really did change the direction of popular music.

Firstly, Paul Butterfield is often remembered in skimpy histories of rock and blues as only a 'white' blues singer and harmonica player who was spearheaded an interest in blues by mainstream rock audiences during the 1960s. However, a closer look at his contributions, we will realize that his contribution were far more lasting than an artist. The facts point toward an artist who was He was an important artistic leader in Americana music, an innovative instrumentalist, a convincing interpreter of blues standards, a gifted songwriter, performer, and bandleader. All of his contributions helped to pioneer the benchmarks for Americana during the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Unlike most of the blues men he learned his craft from in the late fifties, Butterfield did not grow up in a ghetto environment rife with racism, crime and poverty, he grew up in the leafy cosmopolitan Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park. He studied classical flute, was surrounded by art, and the benefit of opportunities. It was only because of its proximity to the surrounding ghetto neighborhood known as the south side he ended up being one of the first white kids to serve an apprenticeship with some of the greatest post war blues artists America has ever produced. He regularly spent face time with people like Muddy Waters, Jame Cotton, Little Walter, Jr. Wells, Otis Rush and a host of other Chicago blues luminaries.

Butterfield's first experience with real blues was around fifteen years of age when he watched Muddy Waters perform Mannish Boy in a south side bar. It was this experience that set him on his journey to become a blues man. By the early sixties, he was well known among the university of Chicago crowd, but he didn't achieve national and then international attention until after he performed at the July 1965 edition of The Newport Festival.

Butterfield's band The Paul Butterfield Blues Band were not a featured act at the festival, but the weekend help to catapult them into international consciousness. They were only presented on a very  small stage while festival goers entered the grounds, but there were two important events that weekend that changed the trajectory of both his career and popular music.

Firstly, as a background note, the folk revival of the late fifties and early sixties were coming to an end and the 'old guard' were still clutching to their old ideas about folk music. These 'folk purists' lead by people such as Pete Seeger and Alan Lomax were generally politically left leaning but quite conservative when it came to folk music. They thought of the music as more a history lesson instead of an active art form and were quite rigid when it came to both the performance of material and the instrumentation of that material. They wanted it to be acoustic and played as close to the original as possible. But they were outgunned. The folk purists didn't seem to believe any white artist could authentically interpret blues. It was a a case of reverse racism. This attitude would plaque Butterfield for most of career. He was falsely accused of only 'aping' Little Walter or not being an authentic exponent of blues because of his race.

The baby boomers were coming of age by 1965 and they wanted music that resonated with their lives not the previous generations. The Rock and roll of the fifties had become stale and had morphed into rock with a new generation of artists like the Beatles and Rolling Stones coming over in what the press labeled 'the British Invasion'. The 'new' music used some of the folk chord progression but it was louder, faster and most of all it was theirs. Even the emperor of folk revival Bob Dylan could see and hear the changes.

So the old guard saw Butterfield with his abrasive interpretations of blues as a blatant affront to the old ways. When The Paul Butterfield Blues Band appeared at a workshop the introduction from the 'old guard' was less than complementary. After all, in their minds they saw a young white middle class man of 23 years of age who had the temerity to call his band a blues band and claim to be able to play real blues only at rock tempos.

Little did these self appointed members of the folk intelligentsia know that Butterfield's band was racially diverse with a couple of south side journeymen in the rhythm section and everyone else had spent more time learning from the masters than most of the people in the whole folk movement. three white guys who had apprentice with some of the greatest post war urban blues artists in America. It could be argued that that event was both the beginning of the end for the folk revival and the launching of Butterfield's profile as a trailblazer. 

There was a new generation of fans who wanted folk to change with the birth of rock. They wanted music to be played louder, faster and reflecting the new sounds of British bands like the the Rolling Stones and Beatles. So when Butterfield's electric band appeared at a workshop the introduction from the 'old guard' was less than complementary. After all, in their minds they saw a young white guy of 23 years of age who had the temerity to call his band a blues band and play blues at rock tempos. Little did these self appointed members of the folk intelligentsia know that Butterfield's band was made up of journeymen with a rhythm section and three white guys who had apprentice with some of the greatest post war urban blues artists in America. It could be argued that that event was both the beginning of the end for the folk revival and the launching of Butterfield's profile as a trailblazer. 
Firstly because he was a white performer who was offending the folkies by playing amplified blues and secondly because Bob Dylan used his band as a back up band for part of his performance at the festival.

In October of that year, his first album, "The Paul Butterfield Blues Band" was released and thousands of mostly white kids picked up electric guitars and harmonicas to form their own blues band in an effort capture that energy. This is pivitol where Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had come ot America promoting Chess records artists like Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry, Butterfield knew all of these guys, had personal relationship with them and served an apprenticeship with them. He was playing authentic blues, taking the dying music to its next logical stage of growth and he was showing young white kids that they could do the same thing.

There is a problem with blues music, the subject matter is very adult and the listener needs life experience to capture its essence. This is a problem for record labels as their audience will tend to be young people with curiousity, young people who want to pretend to have life experience but don't and adults who know about infidelity, divorce etc. The bottom line is that blues doesn't sell very well in the all important 16 to 24 market and never has. When Butterfield named his band The Paul BUtterfield Blues Band, it was a brash statement in a an effort to in the door, but once established it was a marketing label which didn't reflect the content.
The first album was a collection of blues standards played loud at rock tempo with a some original material like Born In Chicago, Our Love is Driftin' thrown into the mix but by the second album Buttefield had moved on. He was now exploring hard bop jazz and long instrumentals in East West. His band was no longer a 'blues band' But Elektra, owned his brand and logo
He is important because he performed authentic blues and he was white.
In October of 1965 Butterfield released his first album The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. In the context of the late folk era and early days of Rock a young white man calling his band a ‘blues band’ would be considered brash. That band was an energetic group and showed promise to his lable Elektra who took upon themselves to change the band’s name to the Alliterated Butterfield Blues Band. This decision would end up causing both Elektra and Butterfield problems in the coming years.

It might be because the themes within blues are really of an adult nature that it does sell well in the mainstream markets. There are exceptions but generally speaking the 16 to 24 market are not consumers of blues. So, Butterfield two problems, one being in a ‘blues band’ created promotion problems because record stores, interviewers, trade magazines all want to discuss BBB as a blues band which they are not. By the second album East West the band was experimenting with hard bop jazz and longer instrumentals with Eastern influences. The blues label also followed Butterfield for the rest of career and he was constantly defending his music as blues based rather than blues.
So what was the music of Paul Butterfield? It is probably best to refer to it as Americana because while he played blues, almost as a tradition rather than a sensibility, his music is really a blend of blues, rock, jazz, folk, military, and even a little classical.
While Butterfield was not a prolific songwriter, he did write some good songs such Lovin’ Cup, In My Own Dream, Run Out of Time, Blind Leading the Blind, and You Can Run But You Can’t Hide. He never had any of his songs make the top ten lists but many of them have been covered by people such as Albert King and Karen Dalton or used for TV show soundtracks like the Wire.
Butterfield became a band leader at 22 years of age and had no experience in the area. His only models were people like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ wolf who often deal with older southside musicians who were not as reliable and dynamic seemed to be of a strong inflexible leader who delievered orders and often threats. This approach didn’t always work with the younger middle class people in his band and for a time he developed a reputation as a prick.
As he aged and gained experience he became a more egalitatian leader and was quite encouraging. He also had an ear for talent and many of a generation’s most influential musicians had their first international exposure in his band. i.e. Mike Bloomfield, Elvin Bishop, David Sanborn, BUsgy Maugh, Buzzy Feiten, Maria Muldaur, Amos Garrett
Butterfield was a multi instrumentalist playing piano, flute and guitar but his primary instruments were his voice and diatonic harmonica. As a blues singer he was quite skilled and performed interpretations of standard blues with a visceral energy afforded only to greats like BB King and Muddy Waters. However, he is best remembered as a harmonica player. He used Hohner ten hole diatonic harmonicas which he endorsed in the sixties. The Marine Band covers three octaves over twenty holes so in order to attain many of the notes in a scale the player needs to use a technique to bend the reed. Blues often uses a minor third, a minor fifth and minor seventh to help create its distinctive sound.

Often it is the technique a musician uses on his instrument which differentiates him from his contemporaries. This techqiue say in the case of Django Reinhart may be the result of a physical anomaly or it could be a creative choice the artist make, but it is this that diffeentiatess them from their peers. Butterfield was different in that he used a technique called lip pucker to attain his tone on the harmonica. Most of the blues players use a tongue blocking technique. Butterfield had an very full tone and always deleivered his phrasing with a gret deal of intensity and utilized a very heavy vibrato.

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